Disclaimer: I don't own Samurai Champloo or any of its affiliated characters, which belong to Manglobe/Shimoigusa Champloos.

A/N: Written as a belated birthday gift for sabsquisite: happy late birthday, m'dear! I wrote you something ... er, really depressing. Eheh?

A sort of companion piece to Exit Wounds, though this can stand on its own, I think. Preseries; spoilers for the Misguided Miscreants arc. Mukuro-centric, rated PG-13/T for squick and eww.

Ordinary Monsters

At sixteen, Mukuro knows the best way to get what you want is to make other people believe they want to give it to you.

The first things he wants, of course, are easy enough to want: a full belly every day, something to keep the rains off his head when they come, a place to sleep. Everyone wants those things — he only has to be patient enough to see, even here.

There is a woman, with a husband who went to Waegwan and never came back, who wants the space on the far side of her pillow to not be so empty anymore.

She is so very grateful, when Mukuro finds her, and her pretty daughter is not nearly as fatherless as she used to be. He laughs when she teases him how it is that someone his age must have a taste for robbing the grave. He is more like a brother than a second father to her daughter, she tells him.

He tells her she'll be beautiful as long as she lives. She believes him.

For a time, she has what she wants.

Weeks go by after she goes into the fire, and he could be content; but he is not. He is learning the first rule of wanting things, that people only want what they see around them.

Even here, there are things to see.

At seventeen, Mukuro sees that the pretty daughter is now a pretty girl, scabbed knees giving way to subtler undulations. The space between Kohza's hipbones would be just about the size of his outstretched hand, he thinks.

He thinks.

This time, he needs to be more careful.

Even here, there are unspoken rules about want, and have, and the space where the two should not meet: there are few things that are not allowed on the island — after all, this is a place of people who are prone to trying to take what does not belong to them, whether a shipment of tea or the Chrysanthemum Throne — but this, this is a much riskier thing.

But that's all right. The rules might even be a help, he thinks.

I don't know what to do, he tells her one night as she clears away the remnants of their evening meal. Your mother didn't have anyone else. Did your father have any other family here?

She pauses in the doorway to look at him, her shoulders sharp in the thin light of the fire. No, she answers. Why?

I'll have to leave here, soon.

He is gratified by the look of panic that crosses her face.

No, please, don't. Please don't leave. Don't leave me here by myself.

It was fine when your mother was here, but now she's gone — Mukuro judges the success of his regretful pause by the way the girl holds her breath, her eyes wide and terrified — it's not right. People will say a girl your age is doing things she shouldn't. They'll think I'm doing something wrong.

But you aren't! Please don't go.

I've been thinking about who could take care of you. Maybe the village headman and his wife will take you in? They seem good enough, and they only have sons — they'd probably be pleased to have a daughter. You'd get to know them, afterwhile.

No, she says. Please.

I wish I could stay, but there isn't anything left here for me — I'll miss you.

She is sniffling now, tears sliding down her blotched cheek. Her upper lip glistens.

It feels wonderful, and he has to fight not to smile.

I wish I could take you with me, he says, careful to say it in the same manner that her mother would have used to speak of what couldn't be helped, what a terrible shame. The headman's wife is lucky, that she could have someone like you to help her. I bet you could run her household for her, easy.

Why can't I go with you? She sniffs once, wiping her nose with the back of her arm. I don't need much. Please. Please let me go with you.

You can't. I wish — but a man, and a girl your age? It's the same everywhere. People have filthy minds. They'll talk. I wouldn't want them to say that about you.

What if — we could tell them you were my brother. No one would think anything then.

Well, he tells her. Pauses. I don't know.

Please — I could take care of you! You just said I could run a household, I could do that. Please don't leave me alone. Please.

I don't want to, but how?

We could go away and we could tell people you were my brother.

He pretends to think about it. It might work, but you couldn't tell anyone.

I never would. I promise.

All right. He lets the smile out. It'll be our secret.

And, of course, she never does tell.

At eighteen, Mukuro is bored.

Even here, even on the far side of the island — he'd thought it a good idea to put some space between them and the village — and even with the added distraction of a little light piracy, things are dull. For a time, he entertains himself by dropping hints to Kohza that he might like to try his luck on the mainland, but even the taste of her fear becomes cloying after a while and he stops.

The problem, he realizes, is that there is nothing around to want.

But there is a boy.

The boy is an oddity; he never seems to want anything, which immediately makes him of interest. He goes along on raids every so often, but his eyes fail to reveal anything but detachment when they come across a rich haul. He takes enough for him to be able to eat for a few weeks, then he's gone, vanished until the next time Mukuro sees that sea urchin head emerge from the forest.

His interest is further piqued when he sees Kohza approach the boy. The boy seems willing enough to talk to her, but no more; Kohza's bed is very comfortable indeed, but the boy walks away as if he's too good for it while Mukuro watches.

Mukuro thinks on the boy who seems to want nothing, which can't possibly be true; Mukuro knows want, if he knows anything, and he knows everyone wants something. The key, then, would be to find out what the boy does want, and —

Well. And what? He's hardly in the business of providing for any wants other than his, certainly not those of some little punk who looks at Mukuro like he was something that crawled out from a rotten piece of wood.

— but wouldn't it be a fine thing to find out what he does want, and to take it from him?

He thinks.

At eighteen, Mukuro smiles.

What're you afraid of? Mukuro saunters over to where they are, the sand underfoot warm against the cool of the night sky. Kohza peers up at him through her hair, but knows better than to say anything. He's tried most everything on the boy but this, and will need to reconsider if this doesn't work.

I ain't afraid of nothing.

Then why won't you team up with me?

Because I hate you, that's why.

It's difficult not to smile, but Mukuro keeps a tight rein on his glee; to be hated and to still be able to take away what the boy wants, why, how perfectly delicious. He puts on his serious face instead, because it's important that the boy has no idea of what lies in store for him.

Of what Mukuro has in store for him.

Listen, he says. The three of us were born and raised here. It doesn't get any worse than this place. There's nothing left to lose, right?

The kid flicks a sideways glance at him, saying nothing, but doesn't get up from the rock where he's perched. It's promising; Mukuro just might be right about him.

Come with me.

And, of course, the kid's curiosity leads him down to the edge of the forest, right where Mukuro is waiting for him in a web of branches.

Raw sugar shipment to Satsuma, Mukuro tells him. We're gonna steal the ship and its cargo, and get off this island.

He watches.

Slowly, the kid nods. I'm in.

When the kid throws himself off the cliff, Mukuro doesn't bother to hide his smile any more.

He wonders if the sharks shared the same opinion of the kid who thought he was better than the rest of them.

At twenty-one, Mukuro is too big for the island, and too good at getting people to do his will, to live anywhere but the country to the north. It suits him here, more than he thought it would: the local lords turn a blind eye to his presence as long as they have what they want, and they want what he has. Whether they are bothered by the absence of a village or two, they've never said.

He is as content as he possibly can be.He's nearly rid of Kohza, as well — he should really tell Shiren that she thinks she has a talent for backstabbing, but he supposes the man will find that out for himself soon enoughand he is looking forward to something new. A girl from a good family, he thinks. Someone with more to lose.

He smiles, and sends Kohza out to sit on the beach. It's necessary, he knows, to bait the hook for something worth wanting to bite; she's likely not the best choice — sooner or later, she'll draw the wrong kind of attention — but for now, she'll do. Someone will feel the need to stop and help her, poor girl.

Really, the best way to get what you want is to make other people believe they want to give it to you.